When you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, you often feel that you’ve lost all control of your life. Everyone is now telling you what to do. You feel at the mercy of your disease, your doctor and your treatment. Andy J. talks about regaining independence by focusing on good nutrition and exercise during his treatment for head and neck cancer.
The dental exam that changed his life
Head and neck cancer can be a complex disease. In Andy’s case, a routine dental checkup ended in his dentist discovering lesions in his mouth. His formal diagnosis revealed advanced tumors, requiring surgery to remove a portion of the underside of his tongue and a section of tissue in the bottom of his mouth—an 11 hour procedure! After weeks of learning new ways to eat and swallow and to fully regain his ability to speak, Andy gradually started regaining independence.
Regaining independence through diet and exercise
All went well for almost two years, until a regular check-up revealed the same cancer in the lymph nodes in his neck. The treatment this time was another surgery, followed by the double whammy of both radiation and chemotherapy. But, he realized that along with a loss of appetite, eating would never be the same for him again: “Early on I lost my sense of taste, my salivary glands were shot, and I had lost all interest in eating. I could smell steak, spaghetti, everything…but I couldn’t imagine eating solid food.” During his treatment, his doctor told him that it was critical that he maintain his weight and stay as active as possible to recover and manage the side effects of his treatment. Since Andy had a loss of appetite, his doctor recommended that he drink BOOST® Very High Calorie (VHC) Nutritional Drink.
Andy recalls, “Despite my loss of appetite, I was told to drink BOOST® VHC drink, with 530 calories in every little carton, four times a day. I decided okay…I can do that. I supplemented it with ice cream and went to the gym five days a week—not at my previous exercise level, but as close as I could. I did all the housework, all the yard work, everything. If it had not been for those 530 calories four times a day, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it up. When I spoke with my doctor about it, he said by getting the calories and balanced nutrition I needed through BOOST® VHC drink, working out and keeping that positive attitude would help me get through it. You're not in control of everything, but you're still in control of a lot. And this was something I could still control.”
A caregiver’s perspective
Helping someone who has a keen sense of independence takes a special touch and, Andy’s wife, Sue, weighs in on how to help, respectfully: “This was Andy's journey and I've always believed that every individual has their own sense of dignity and independence, and I didn't want to take that from him. I wanted him to keep his positivity, which was downright magical with everything he was going through. As a caregiver, just make sure you establish your own support system, so when you need it most, you can be uplifted—or allowed to vent.”
Andy agrees that Sue knew exactly how much to help: “Sue was an incredible source of support! Not the kind where she'd be fawning all over me but she allowed me to do the things I thought I could do and, if I failed, she was there to help and support me.”
Still a BOOST® fan
For three months, Andy drank BOOST® VHC exclusively—no solid foods of any kind. Toward the end of his treatment, he supplemented with BOOST® High Protein Drink.
Even though he no longer suffers from a loss of appetite, he continues to stay active and take care of himself, and starts almost every day with a smoothie made with a BOOST® nutritional drink.
Andy says, “Still to this day, I drink at least two bottles of a BOOST® nutritional drink every day. I'm cancer-free, but one of the reasons I am, I believe, is because I did everything I needed to do, and the doctors did everything they needed to do. And, part of that was the nutritional component I got from BOOST® nutritional drinks.”